• RSS
ï~~Bulletin of the American Society of Papyrologists 44 (2007) 249-251 Larry W Hurtado, The Earliest Christian Artifacts: Manuscripts and Christian Origins. Grand Rapids and Cambridge: Eerdmans, 2006. xiv + 248 pages + 9 plates. ISBN 978-0-8028-2895-8. Hurtado's accessible primer on the earliest Christian manuscripts maintains a strict focus: Coptic texts are too late, Semitic texts too indirect. The broader historical frame comes into play in places, but we find here, rather, a concerted look at Greek papyri and parchments of the second and third centuries containing "Christian Literary Texts." These include biblical and apocryphal texts, along with a variety of explicitly theological material like Irenaeus, Melito, Origen, a few prayers, and a hymn. Appendix 1 gives a list of the 246 manuscripts under scrutiny: 92 Old Testament texts (including the few predating the second century), 85 New Testament, 19 Apocrypha, 50 theological. These manuscripts are examined, in particular, for what they tell us "as artifacts." The text is divided into five chapters. The first contains a straightforward description of the texts, at times a rather pedestrian listing of the number of witnesses for, say, Matthew as opposed to Luke as opposed to the Shepherd of Hermas or Gospel of Thomas, but with some interesting comments along the way. In particular, H. stresses the consequences of the wide distribution of New Testament and apocryphal texts for our ideas of Christian community and interchange - e.g., that the variety of biblical and apocryphal texts recovered from second- and third-century Oxyrhynchus seems to suggest that the apocrypha were part of the broad interests of Christian readers in these early times rather than a sign of isolated heterodox communities. With that as a basis, H. moves directly to the best-known issue arising from the early Christian manuscripts, namely, that of the "Early Christian Preference for the Codex" (chapter 2). He presents a thorough (if at times statistically over-elaborated) review of the facts that demonstrate that preference, followed by a sensible review of scholarly speculations on the causes. Importantly, he successfully exposes for the student what is fact, what is scholarly opinion, and what might form reasonable grounds on which to construct history from such evidence. In the end, he sides (tentatively, as is necessary) with Harry Gamble's view (Books and Readers in the Early Church, 1995) that the preference devolves from an early collection of Pauline epistles in codex form. This chapter is a good place to send students and colleagues looking for an account of the issues involved, Roberts and Skeat's admirable Birth of the Codex (1983) being now out of date.
Top of page Top of page